Sunday, October 26, 2008

10/26/08, Sermon/Dharma Talk

Don’t try to make sense of it. Don’t have to understand it. Don’t waste your time reasoning it out, squaring things up, explaining things, making it all right that things are what they are. Just let it be all right. Even the things that are not all right, like selling drugs to children, or treating gay people like they are sinful or sick and unworthy of the rights and privileges of those considered by some to be normal human beings—let it be all right that there are things that are not all right—and work to make them right. Let it be all right that you have to work to make things right. And get busy. Don’t sit around trying to understand it, explain it, justify it, smooth it over. It isn’t smooth! Some things are not right. Let that be all right, and get busy making them right. Let it be all right that we have to work to make things right.

Don’t be looking for reasons for things being the way they are. Here’s the reason things are the way they are: It’s easier that way. Things take the course of least resistance in becoming what they are. And we have to work to make them different, better. Things are the way they are because somebody was too lazy to alter them at the start, and now we have to do the work of thousands to make things more like they ought to be than they are. And the question is how lazy will we be? Will we do the work? Or, will we sit around fanning ourselves looking for some cosmic purpose at work in things being the way they are? Telling ourselves to leave things alone because it is God’s will that they are what they are?

There is no cosmic purpose. No body is planning your day, your life, managing events and circumstances throughout the universe in order to achieve some well-designed, thought-out, carefully orchestrated and marvelously wonderful outcome. Nothing has to be what it is. It makes no sense. So, stop trying to square things up and align them with some grand idea of how they ought to be, and roll up your sleeves and get busy. Get busy living your life, doing what must be done, making things as good as they can be for yourself and all people.

That gets tricky quickly, doesn’t it? We can’t make things as good as they can be for everyone without someone sacrificing something. Our good for the good of the whole. Where IS that balance point? There is no balance point. Things do not fall nicely into place and stay there so that everyone’s good is optimally served at all times. No one is happy all the time. At any point, someone’s needs are not being met, and everyone thinks it’s their turn now. What are you going to do? Do what you can. Do what can be done. And let that be that.

Flash back with me to Tevya and Fiddler on the Roof. “It’s a new world, Goldie.” Things are falling apart. Disruption is everywhere. The stabilizing traditions are dissolving. Chaos and turmoil rule the day. Nothing that once could be counted on to hold things together can be counted on to hold things together. Yet, Tevya and Goldie do what can be done to make life possible for themselves and their children and the people who are influenced and sustained by their presence, their spirits, their lives.

It isn’t what happens to us, that matters, it is who we show ourselves to be in dealing with what happens to us. It is who we are, who we bring to life, in the engagement with life, who we become through the process of living our lives. “It takes the Cyclops to bring out the hero in Ulysses.” It doesn’t matter what happens, how easy or hard our lives are, or how much we like or don’t like about our lives. It matters how we manage ourselves, not how we arrange our circumstances. It matters that we stand with Tevya and Goldie, that we walk with them through the shambles of their world, and ours, and make of it what can be made of it—in the spirit of those who are just fine to be who we are doing what we are doing.

This doesn’t mean we aren’t staggered by the things that come our way. And it doesn’t mean that we can make it through our lives alone. We need a community to uphold us, sustain us, and enable us to find the wherewithal to take the next step, to do what must be done. Tevya and Goldie are not isolated from the larger community of displaced Jews. They find their way in the world in the company of those who are also finding their way in the world. The quality of our association with a sustaining community is directly proportional to the quality of our lives. We cannot live well without the right kind of encouraging, caring presence in our lives. Our life is a function, an extension, of our life together. We live well apart by living well together.

It’s harder than it needs to be. It doesn’t plop right, out of the box. We have to work to make it right. To make it as it ought to be. It’s our life, taking this and turning it into that. We are miracle workers, making magic happen. Or not. Sometimes, we just complain. Whine. Moan. Carry on. As though we are privileged and the word didn’t get around. And, now we are being asked to do things we shouldn’t have to do.

Well. We don’t know what our life will be. It doesn’t unfold before the cameras like a well-crafted Hollywood script. We don’t think it up and there it is. We don’t place an order and have it delivered. Life is what we do with what we have to work with. With what comes our way. With what is waiting around the next corner, and all the ones after that.

Life is what we create by the way we live, by who we show ourselves to be through the process of living our lives. Life is the creation. We are the creators. We produce the wonder that our Life becomes. Our life’s work is our life!

Life isn’t automatically what it needs to be, what we need it to be. We have to work at it to make it worth living. We make it what it is. What’s good is good because we make it good, because we put ourselves in the way of the good, grab it with both hands and refuse to let go, no matter what—because we do the good, serve the good, practice good, relentlessly, over the course of our lives. What would you put forward as justifying the experience of life and making it worth the effort that goes into being alive? How much of that would exist, or how much of that could we experience, without what we do to make it possible? We create a life that is worth living, or not. It’s ours to do all the way. Creation is our gift to the world, to ourselves. We bring Life to life. We don’t find it there, accidentally, as one might stumble upon loose change in a parking lot.

Of course, we don’t have to produce anything. We can wail and cast about, and attempt to console ourselves with “Poor me, poor me!” Poor me, indeed! Nobody gets what they wish they had. And if they do, it’s isn’t the right color, or it doesn’t fit like they thought it would, or it doesn’t last and they can’t let it go. Poor everyone of us! Now what?

Life waits to be formed and shaped and brought forth into the world. That is our work, our genius, our gift to the world. We craft Life! We bring Life to life in our lives! We grace the world with the Life we live out of the materials at hand. Or not. We don’t have to craft a Life. We can live out our days with an eye on other things. Many things pass for Life. For Really Living. There is grabbing the gusto. There is buying, spending, amassing, consuming. There is acquisition and accumulation. Escape and denial. The world is filled with things that claim to be Real Life. We can live our entire lives in the pursuit of Real Life. We don’t have to craft a Life. We don’t have to be alive.

Crafting a Life brings Life to life in us and brings us to Life in our lives. Here’s how it works: We take the raw materials of our life, of the day, our parent’s divorce, say, or the loss of our job, or a bequest of several million dollars, and we bring our spirit, our character, our soul, our self to bear on the circumstances of our lives. We shape it and are shaped by it. Much like the stream and the channel create each other, we create, and are created by, the life we live, the way we live in and with the context and circumstances of our lives.

Part of that work is just doing what needs to be done. Paying the bills. Making ends meet. Feeding the baby. Being responsible for our decisions and choices and their impact and outcome. Part of that work is doing what needs to be done the way WE would do it. We come alive in our lives when we live them in the service of our own genius, when we bring our gifts and perspective to bear upon the context and circumstances of our lives. And, when we encounter the mystery and wonder of being.

This experience of this context and these circumstances is beyond words. To be conscious and aware of the wonder of Life, of living, of being alive is to be awake on the boundary between human and divine. And, then, it is gone. And the baby crying is just a baby crying. But, we remember the connection between the baby crying and the beauty of Life. And we know it is not for nothing that we live. And, this is faith.

Faith is remembering, trusting, living on and in light of a level beyond the nuts and bolts of existence. This is the level of Life beyond life. It is accessible only to those with eyes to see, ears to hear, and a heart that understands—to those who have been for a time on the boundary between the human and the divine.

And, those who have been there, or who believe it is possible to be there, gather in groups like this one to remember and remind one another of Life beyond life, and encourage each other to do the work of living within the context and circumstances of life as those who would bring Life to life there by the nature and quality of their work, of their presence, of their spirit and character, in doing what needs to be done with the raw materials at hand, each day of their lives.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

10/19/08, Sermon/Dharma Talk

It’s a mixed bag. Which is to say, “It’s all one.” Which is to say, “We live on the boundary between yin and yang.” Which is to say, “We live with that which is true and with that which is also true.” Which is to say, “Harmony is chaos zoomed in or zoomed out.” Which is to say, “Chaos and harmony are the same thing seen differently.”

We have the idea that spirituality is the great end of chaos, the great dissipation of opposition, the great merging of opposites, the great blending of opposing positions, so that all flows together, oil and water, into one wonderfully, endless, OOMMMMMmmmmm…. And everything is squared up and falls into place, and everyone is so glad to be together at last, one heart, one mind, one single idea of how to stack the dishes and how to fold the towels. It is so time we rethink perfection.

Everything is one, not in agreement and identity and concord and concurrence. Everything is one in being, in existence, in relationship with and connection to everything else. Nothing exists apart, in and of itself alone. Everything appears to be separate, so it is easy to think in terms of one, and two, and three, and four, and not just One. But. Where does the fish stop and the ocean start? Clearly the fish is not the ocean, and the ocean is not the fish. And, just as clearly, fish and ocean are one.

Oneness is not sameness. Fish and ocean are not the same, and they are one. Separation is not separateness, and harmony is not accord or common consent. And spirituality is not the effortless path to the merger of mind and purpose.

Mind? Did someone say, “Mind”? One of the most interesting and intriguing, to my way of thinking, ideas to come along in some time is the Santiago Theory of Cognition. According to this theory, mind and cognition, knowing, are not  things separate and apart from each other and other things, but processes by which living things engage their environment. There is no actual separation between us, or any living thing, and our environment. Where do we stop and where does our environment start? We don’t exist external to the world, or the world external to us. We “bring forth the world” we live in by deciding what to notice and respond to and what to ignore. We choose what disturbs us, what requires our attention, what deserves our time. We decide what is valuable (and what is threatening). We live trapped in our own esthetic.

This is too weird! Did someone just say, “We live trapped in our own esthetic”? We are trapped in our own esthetic, in our own way of sensing beauty, in our own idea of what is beautiful. What is beautiful is what we say is beautiful. The work of photography (Which, wouldn’t you know it, right here in the middle of a discourse about the oneness of things, is also the work of being alive) is the work of expanding, extending, deepening, broadening, enlarging our esthetic—opening ourselves to the beauty beyond our idea of beauty. Waking up to the beauty that is everywhere. Waking up! The whole spiritual enterprise is about waking up and becoming aware of worlds beyond our world.

We live as servants of our own esthetic, our own way of sensing beauty, even as we open ourselves to “more than meets the eye,” that is, to more than the eye, our eye, can see because it doesn’t “catch our eye,” because it doesn’t rank on our eye’s scale of beauty. We have to consciously look beyond what seems to us to be beautiful in order to see what else is there, in order to see the beauty that is invisible to us because we haven’t learned to see it as beautiful—or learned to see it at all!

We cannot live well—we cannot be alive—and be dismissive. We cannot dismiss opera, or blue grass, or improvisational jazz because it doesn’t match our idea of beautiful music, because it doesn’t seem to us to be “real music.” We have to learn to listen for what other people are hearing—we have to learn to trust other tastes than our own when it comes to ascribing value, and worth, and beauty. Ours are not the only ears, the only eyes. We have to learn to hear and see with the ears and eyes of other people. As with the blind men and the elephant, we have to stand apart from our own experience and engage the experience of one another in order to broaden and deepen our ability to apprehend the truth of life, and be alive. Closed or open is the fundamental determinant of LIFE.

Here’s one of the interesting things about mind being a process by which we engage our environment. At a certain point in the development of consciousness, of awareness, we determine what constitutes our environment by deciding what to attend and what to ignore. Our environment can consist of nothing more than the experience of the experience inside of our own minds. We can close ourselves off from the world of normal, apparent (to everyone else) reality, and live “in our own world,” in the world of our own mind. Our mind can become so fascinated by itself, so locked into itself, so insulated against all possible disturbances, that it closes itself off from the intrusion of outside experience and encapsulates itself in a world of its own making, safe but crazy, “inside our own esthetic.”

And, we can form ourselves into groups that think exactly like we do. Or, is it that we think exactly like everyone else does? Where do we stop and they start? Where does the fish stop and the ocean start? Fish or ocean? Individual or group? You can take the person out of the Deep South, but you can’t take the Deep South out of the person.

And, we are back to last week’s discourse about “we don’t get to choose our choices.” We don’t get to pick our perspective, our point of view. We live trapped in our own esthetic. Our ideas of how things are and ought to be are our ideas of how things are and ought to be. We don’t go shopping for them in the ready to wear section of Belk’s or Macy’s. “Oh, this is pretty. ‘The Universe is on our side.’ I think I’ll try this on and see how it fits! It’s so sheik, and everybody is wearing it these days.”

Look. It’s like this: We aren’t going to stop doing what we are doing and start doing something else instead. We aren’t going to stop seeing how we see and start seeing some way else instead. We aren’t going to stop thinking the way we think and start thinking some way else instead.

Bring in George Bush and John McCain and Sara Palin. Give them the floor. Let them say everything they can think to say. We’ll leave thinking, and seeing, and doing the way we did before we came. Or, send us to George, and John, and Sara, and give us the floor and let us say everything we can think to say. When it’s over, nothing changes.

Nothing changes until our backs are against the wall, and nothing we do is working, and the foundations have crumbled, and we have to make our way in a new world. This is to say that nothing changes until something changes. The place of women in Islam isn’t going to change until something changes. The place of Gays in the Presbyterian Church (USA) isn’t going to change until something changes. But, what is going to change?

And, don’t think the problem is the church. What needs to be changed about us? How different do we need to be? In what ways are our lives not working? What do we need to do to be better aligned with our ideas of how things ought to be? How do our ideas of how things ought to be need to change to be better aligned with how things truly ought to be? We all could answer these questions more easily about one another than we can answer them about ourselves. I can easily see how you need to change. I think I’m just fine exactly as I am.

The things we would like to change about our lives are the external things, the conditions and circumstances, the context, within which we live. We would like for our lives to be different, but we don’t want to change. We want things and people to change in relation to us, but we like ourselves just as we are. However, being alive is about changing the way we live. It is about changing from being closed to being open.

What stands between us and life, between us and the joy of being alive? What interferes with our relishing the experience of Being? The wonder of existence? Whence the drudgery, the boredom, the gloom? We are not born depressed, dour, down, dejected, mournful, sad. When does the light go out of our eyes? When does fear and dread creep in? What can we do to maintain the light? To retain the joy? This is called waking up, and it is the hardest thing to do. It requires seeing things as they are and move beyond our own esthetic, to expand the ways in which we engage our environment.

When we wake up, we wake up in our lives just as they are, and work with what we have at our disposal to make them what they can be. And, a lot of that work is coming to terms with what they are and what they can be. A good bit of being satisfied with our lives is making our peace with how things are with us.

Eyes that see are just eyes that see what they see. Ears that hear are ears that hear what they hear. Hearts that understand are hearts that understand what they understand. To see what we see, hear what we hear, understand what we understand we have to see our seeing, hear our hearing, and understand our understanding. We have to take it all in, and know what we know in a way that includes the all-ness of our knowing.

We can’t think about our thinking and think the same things we have always thought, and live the same ways we have always lived. The more openly and creatively and critically we engage our thinking, the more differently we will think, and live. You threaten us to the core when you ask us to think openly, creatively, and critically about our thinking. We’ll have to have your hide for that. If you think about it, I’m sure you will understand. And, therein lies the key to being alive in the time left for living. Amen! Can I have an Amen here? Someone? Anyone?

Sunday, October 12, 2008

10/12/08, Sermon/Dharma Talk

We live on the boundary between yin and yang, you know. We live between the hands: On the one hand this, and on the other hand that. We live in the tension between what is true and what is also true. Ambivalence, ambiguity, uncertainty, indecision meet us at every turn. We are damned if we do and damned if we don’t. We have a public persona and a shadow side, and wonder who we really are. We want to avoid the incessant conflict and just have someone tell us what to do, how to be. The bad news is that we have to live the contradictions and bear the pain.

One of the essential, fundamental, contradictions is this: We have to be responsible for our own lives, AND we cannot make it through the experience of being alive on our own. We need one another IN ORDER TO BE responsible for our own lives. But, we want to be independent and irresponsible.

We keep looking for someone to take the rap, for a fall guy, or gal. We want someone else to be responsible for us. It’s our parents’ fault, you know. Or our spouse’s. If we had only married someone else. Or had a different job. Or different friends. Or more money. That’s it! If we only had more money!

Look. It’s like this: This is our life. As it is. How are WE going to live it, with all the givens that impinge upon it? Look. It’s like this. Photographer’s don’t get to dial up their scenes. I walk into Peggy’s Cove and there is a hurricane on the way. I don’t get fog. I don’t get sunshine. I get ugly white skies and high winds. Other photographers, at different times, get fog. Other photographers, at different times, get sunshine. I don’t. I don’t get to choose my scene. I get to choose what I’m going to do with this scene exactly as it is. We don’t get to choose our choices. We don’t get to choose the choices we wish we had.

We don’t get to choose the context and circumstances of our lives. Think about your life. It is not what you dreamed it would be. It’s certainly not what you wish it were. You were in it all the way, doing what you thought was the best thing to do at the time, and here you are. Smack in the middle of what you would not  have wished for with a million wishes. We don’t get to dial up our scenes or our lives. Our lives, you might say, have a life of their own. Things don’t work out like we think they will. And we look for a fall guy, or gal. For someone to take the rap. For someone to relieve us of the responsibility of living this stinky old life just as it is. Won’t somebody help us? Someone? Anyone?

The help we get isn’t the help we have in mind. That’s a spiritual law if there ever was one! We want deliverance, escape, happy days. We get a day’s worth of manna, that is, what we need to meet the day and do what needs to be done there.

There is no escape from the matrix, the pattern, the karma of us, of who, and how, we are. We carry ourselves with us wherever we go. We have to come to terms with who we are and how it is with us, and let it be so, because it is. Things begin to change once we allow them to be what they are. They may not change enough to suit us. We can always imagine a better world than the world we live in. But living well always requires us to live as well as possible here and now in this world that we are in. We don’t get to choose our choices, and these choices are, this life, just as it is, is all we have to work with.

When we get married and step into the work of being married, something has to give. Something has to go. It will either be our marriage or our idea of marriage. Same thing goes with our lives. When we step into our lives and begin living the life that is our life to live, something has to go. It will either be our life or our idea of our life. We cannot have it the way we want it to be. The help we get isn’t the help we have in mind. We can always imagine a better life than the one we have. This gets us to the crux, as they say, of the matter.

The spiritual journey, task, path is growing up. That’s all there is to it. There is nothing beyond growing up. All of the metaphors, enlightenment, awakening, realization, the search for the Holy Grail, and any others that there may be are all about growing up. And growing up is about stepping into your life right now just as it is and doing all that can be done with it. What can you do with your life right now, just as it is, using only the tools that are at your disposal? Go do it. That’s it. That’s all there is to it. Oh, and do it again tomorrow. And every day thereafter. For the rest of your life.

Spirituality is nothing more than how we live our lives. All of the parables of Jesus, the Sermon on the Mount, and any other teachings that he passed along all come down to how we live our lives. The essence of spirituality is not the contemplation of grand ideas that encapsulate us in blissful delight and wonder. It is how we live our lives. These lives, right now, just as they are. How do we live these lives? How do we treat one another? Here, now? It isn’t enough to know, for instance, that love is the answer. We have to live lovingly, even when we don’t feel like it and don’t want to.

We cannot do that well, we cannot live well, treat one another well, without coming to terms with the life that we are living, being responsible for our own lives, and receiving the help we need to do what needs to be done. That means growing up. The things that go into growing up are all the things that go into spirituality at its best.  The things that go into being grown up are all the things that go into being enlightened, and awakened, and aware. They are all of the things that go into being a true human being. They are all of the things that go into Buddha-hood and Christ-like-ness. We can’t be grown up without being whole, complete, centered, grounded, integrated, at one with ourselves and the universe, true to ourselves within the context and circumstances of our lives. Everything we are seeking in spirituality is found in growing up.

And, we can’t do it on our own. We can’t grow up alone. We need one another. For support and encouragement. We need an encouraging word, supportive presence. We need to be cared about. We need the sustaining concern of those who care about us in the right kind of way. It takes all of us to see everything. Our perspective is expanded, deepened, enlarged by the perspective of others. We grow one another up. Growing up is a communal undertaking. No one grows up alone.

But, as you all know, this growing up business is not all goodness and light. We don’t grow up by being coddled and cuddled and buffered from the outlandish realities of our lives. It takes the outlandish, you know, and the appalling, to wake us up. To call us beyond ourselves. To require us to take into account the world beyond the world we want to be. And, so we need the opposition and antagonism that our life provides in order to do the work that wakes us up, grows us up, and makes us whole.

Joseph Campbell reminds us that “It took the Cyclops to bring out the hero in Ulysses.” We don’t grow up without dealing heroically and well with the unwanted aspects of our lives. Who—what—is there to call us beyond ourselves? To ask more of us, expect more of us, than we think is there? Who—what—is there to wake us up? To suggest that we owe it to ourselves to find our what we are capable of? To urge us on? To send us off—as equipped as we are—to joust with giants and tilt at windmills? Without that influence we disappear into the middling muddle of existence and settle for what has passed for life for generations.

We are never far from the waking influence of the unwanted. And, that is as it must be because we are never fully awake. We are always waking up. And it takes conflict, confrontation, opposition to wake us up. We do not wake up willingly, gladly. We do not rush to wake up, as though waking up is all sweetness and life. It is life, of course, but it is life after death. We have to die first. We have to give up the way we have always seen in order to see. We always wake up against our will. It is always a shock to us to wake up. We resist it every time. Sometimes, we resist too much, and remain asleep.

What we are talking about is death and resurrection. Nobody lives without dying. Grows up without going through hell. Awakens without resisting all that it takes to awaken us. There are no shortcuts. No easy streets. No smooth seas. No quick, quiet rides to realization, enlightenment, awareness. It’s hell all the way.

And so, the mantra of the journey is: Bear the pain! The pain of life. The pain of not getting your way. The pain of taking no for an answer. The pain of being able to imagine a world you cannot live in, a life you cannot have. The pain of stepping aside, moving over, making way. The pain of accommodation, and acquiescence, and acceptance. The pain of letting come what’s coming and letting go what’s going. The pain of the way things are. The pain of working things out with your life, with one another. The pain of negotiation and compromise. The pain of doing what it takes to change what can be changed and living with what cannot be changed. Everything rides on how well we bear the pain, and allow life to be what it is, and allow others to be who they are.

There are compelling reasons to not like what we don’t like. How well can we allow others to be who we are not? To not be who we are? How well can we accommodate ourselves to different ways of seeing, being, and doing things? How often do we put ourselves aside for the sake of the other? To seamlessly merge into relationship with the different other?

Strained relationships strain at the point of differentness. They don’t do it our way and we cannot let that be. We do not do it their way and they cannot let that be. Divisiveness is always the result of a lack of grace. Growing up, being spiritual, hinge on the question of how gracious we can be. 

Sunday, October 05, 2008

10/05/08, Sermon/Dharama Talk

How do we decide what’s worth our time? Is NASCAR worth your time? Pro football? College basketball? Is Duke worth your time? North Carolina? The ACC? How do you determine what you care about? What you love? What’s worth your time and what isn’t? How do you decide? How do you know?

Some of us fly to Nova Scotia to drive around taking photographs. How do we know that’s the thing to do? Some of us sit on the beach and read. Some of us listen to opera and watch ballet. How do we know we should do that instead of branding cattle or blowing glass or working on lawn mower engines? How do we know?

How do we decide who, okay, whom, to listen to? Put John McCain and Barak Obama before us. What sets them apart? What moves us toward one, away from the other? Who is right for the country, the world? Who is wrong? What makes us think so, how do we know?

My variety of Christianity is different from other versions. You are here and not somewhere else. What makes you think this is the place to be? What brings you to say “Yes” to what I say and “No” to what others have said, and are saying? How do you know?

Oh, you know. We just know what we know. We know what we like and don’t like, what strikes a cord, what rings true, what stirs something within, what vibrates within our frequency range, what speaks to us, what’s on the beam and what’s off it. We know “Yes!” and “No!” We know what’s right for us, and what’s wrong. We know what fits and what doesn’t. We know what we believe and what we don’t believe.  And yet, there is such a thing as mass hypnosis, and mob mentality, and Group Think, and cultural automatons. The question is, how do we know? And, how do we change our mind? How valid is what we think we know, and how do we evaluate its validity?

These questions open the door into Left Brain, Right Brain areas of exploration and the area of Personality Type. ESTJ’s know in a way that is fundamentally different from INFP’s. Just looking at us, you would never guess how different we are. But we process experience in radically different ways. There is no way the gospel, or anything, can be presented to all of us in a way that makes sense to each of us.

We have our own way of knowing, of experiencing, of perceiving and understanding the world. Our challenge is to find an atmosphere, an environment, that understands and respects these differences, and allows each of us the privilege of our own point of view without trying to wrestle any of us out of our way of seeing into someone else’s way of seeing. What we need is a place that helps us make sense of our lives and find our way to that which is valuable and worth our time—without taking from us the responsibility of doing the work ourselves.

How things are—in the sense of what things mean to us and what part they play in our lives—is always a function of how we understand things to be. The facts which govern our lives are themselves governed by our understanding of them, by our perception of them. The position of the sun, for instance, changes in the sky over the course of the seasons according to the earth’s rotation and orbit around the sun, but the meaning of the sun’s shift in position has changed over time as our understanding of the principles governing that shift in position has changed. The meaning of any fact changes as our perception of the fact, our way of viewing/seeing the fact, changes.

How should we see? How should we understand things? How should we perceive things? How should our perceptions govern the facts which govern our lives? Who is to say? There is no one who knows how to know. We all have to figure it out together.

There is a photographic principle that applies here. It goes like this: It takes all of us to see all there is to see, but then we turn around, or come back tomorrow, and see something else. No one photographer, and no group of photographers, has the capacity to see it all. It takes us all to see it all, and even then we don’t see it all. This is the story of the Blind Men and the Elephant. It is the story of our lives.

We need one another to expand our perspective and deepen our understanding of life and what it means to be alive. We have to talk to one another about our view of things, about how things seem to be to us, about what seems to be important and what seems to be possible and what our response to the experience of life needs to be. We do not figure these matters out on our own. We do not know how things are and what we should do about it on our own. We have to talk it over—all of it—to have a chance at responding appropriately to what is being asked of us, offered to us, in the time of our living.

The fallacy of the guru, the illusion cast by the idea of the master, is that there is one who knows. The truth is that we all know together. All of us together know more, know better, see more clearly, than any one of us alone. This is the foundation of the Presbyterian approach to faith, and truth, and life. It takes us all. No one of us knows more than all of us together know. No one of us sees more, or sees better, than all of us together see. The weakness of the Presbyterian approach is the ease with which we substitute what they knew, what they saw, for what we know, what we see. This is to give them the position of guru, of master. But a group of people is no more of a guru than a single guru, no more of a master than a single master, and we cannot give them—whether they be the Reformers, or the Patriarchs, or the Westminster Divines, or the Saints, or the Pillars of the Church, or even the Prophets and the Apostles—the position of Authoritative Seer/Knower of All Truth, the Dispenser of True Wisdom.

This is not to say that there is no such thing as timeless validity and value. It is to say that the timeless validity and value of such things as grace, compassion, peace, kindness, justice, generosity and the like is to be uncovered, recognized, and affirmed in the living of our own lives, and not declared to be so because someone else said so. The value of love is known in loving and being loved, not in being told to believe that love is valuable. The experience of life—and critical reflection on that experience—opens us to the truth of that experience, which is often more than words can say.

What we know when we know is the value of those old qualities that have been esteemed through the ages, love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness, self-discipline, and all those other attributes that have been the foundation of life for all of us forever. The foundation of life is how we treat one another.  It is the spirit we engender in our life together. It is what we bring forth in our way of living with each other. We create what is worthy and good by the quality of our relationships with other people. Life is a corporate creation.

Life is not about buying, spending, amassing and consuming. It is not about career tracks and life time achievement awards. It is about how we treat one another. It is about who we are—who we show ourselves to be—in relationship with each other. We are all children who need the caring presence of the right kind of parent. And we are all people with the potential and recurring opportunity to be the right kind of parent.

We never out-live the need for comfort and consolation. We are always the child with the skinned knee needing to be nestled in the restorative wonder of gentle grace, kind words, soothing care. When we bring the loving manner of the right kind of parent to life in our relationships, we supply all that is necessary for life in the world.

The challenge, the call, is to receive one another well. Divisiveness is the result of a lack of grace. Our failure to be gracious is the cause of much suffering. If we win, we have to be gracious in victory. If we lose, we have to be gracious in defeat. To live well in relationship, we have to be gracious with one another, and kind. To live well, we must receive one another well and provide caring, supportive presence to one another in dealing with what comes our way.

The meaning of life is to live well in this sense. Our influence out-lives us. The impact of our living is the impact we have on one another for good or for ill. The meaning of life is to be a source of good in the moment of our living. The things that must be passed along from generation to generation are the wonderful old values that have always served as the true ground of civilization: grace, mercy and peace, love, joy, justice, goodness, kindness, gentleness and truth, etc. We live well when we bring these qualities to life in our lives and in the lives of one another.

And this gets us back to where we came in. We are different people with different perspectives and different views of what is right, and good, and needs to be done. So, we talk it out in an atmosphere that is conducive to hearing what the others are saying, that respects and honors what others say. We create life by the quality of our living together. Life is not about what we acquire, or achieve, or accomplish, or amass for ourselves. It is not about having, getting, or forcing our way, but about finding the way together. We do that by listening carefully and closely to what each other is saying, and allowing the sharing of perspectives to expand the way everyone sees and deepen the awareness—and, hence, the vitality, the life force—of all who are a part of the conversation.

The Structure of Spiritual Reality, Part I

1)       Our ideas about God are the work of life and consciousness remembering their origin, and represent, at any point in our lives, our effort to articulate that work and those ideas in light of our experience of—our understanding of—life and consciousness at that point.

2)       Prayer is the soul’s orientation to truth, to the truth of its own experience, to the articulation of its experience of truth, to saying what it is to be alive in this time and place, to the expression of its experience of life.

3)       Jesus is an ink blot and God is an optical illusion. So is the Tao—an ink blot and an optical illusion. What we see depends upon how we look. Now you see it, now you don’t. Now it’s like this, now it’s like that. Everything is a mirror, showing us ourselves. Projection, reflection, it’s all the same to eyes that see.

4)       Don’t think that you can say anything about the Tao, or Truth (not that they are separate things) that won’t be reversed by something else you say about the Tao, or Truth (not that they are separate things).

5)       Truth is true only so far as it goes. Nothing is so true that it never clashes with a contradictory truth (Not even this statement is that true). “Yes, but…” is always the response by those with eyes to see, ears to hear, and a heart that understands. And, if you are one of those people, you are saying “Yes, but” about now.

6)       When our heart is in what we are doing, we are one with the center. But, mind can change heart, and we see things with new eyes, and do things differently. There Is not one way to do things over time. Things do not stay the same forever. We do not think the way we have always thought, do what we have always done. Those who see things clearly, see things differently over time.

7)       To see what needs to be done and do it in the way it needs to be done at the time it needs to be done is to be “on the beam” and “in synch with the deepest source.”

8)       We interfere with this kind of seeing by having and imposing our plans and agendas on our lives. By willing what cannot be willed, by wanting what we have no business having. Ah, but. How are we to know?

9)       When we cannot be trusted to know what is right and do it in the situation as it arises, we can only do what was thought to be right in a similar situation in all situations that follow it no matter how different they are.

10)     When we enter into, or create, situations that have never existed before, we have nothing to guide us in knowing what to do and avoid the discomfort of not-knowing by making up rules and policies that don’t fit, and saying what nice rules and policies they are, and forcing everyone to abide by them.

11)     There is “in synch,” and there is “out of synch.” There is a trick, however: Out of synch is in synch with ultimate synch-ness. Harmony, oneness, is everywhere. It just takes a while for it to be apparent sometimes.

12)     If the sage does things as they should be done, then there are things which should not be done, and there are things to be preferred and chosen over other things, and impartiality is out of the question. The whole point of being privy to sagacity is to know what is to be preferred and chosen. Wisdom is to be preferred over folly, and partiality is the way of things.

13)     Don’t worry about it. Just live your life, the life that is yours to live, and let that be that. Let your detractors be your detractors, and your critics be your critics, and your supporters be your supporters, and your fans be your fans. Let those who are against you be those who are against you, and let those who are for you be those who are for you, and don’t be undone, or impressed, or distracted by any of it.

14)     We work with the givens in doing what needs to be done, which is sensed by those with eyes to see, ears to hear, and a heart that understands in each situation “as it arises.”

15)     It takes a lot of looking to be able to see, a lot of listening to be able to hear, a lot of asking, seeking and knocking to be able to understand. It takes a lot of living to be able to be awake and alive.

16)     Stepping aside and letting life have its way with us is a test of faith, of our capacity to trust ourselves to life unknowing, confident only that stepping aside is the right thing to do.

17)     Oneness is the fundamental presumption. As is emptiness. As is nothingness. Quick! Which is it?

18)     It is said “Those who live by the sword will die by the sword.” And, those who DON’T live by the sword will die by the sword, or by those who wield the sword. Existence is violent. “Life eats life.” How’s that for violence?

19)     What is this “No!” to violence from those who say “Everything moves in oneness,” and “Nothing is the world is separate, unworthy, or lost”? Violence, harmony, impartiality, indifference… What is to be embraced? What is to be rejected?

20)     The sage doesn’t worry about it. What does the sage care?

21)     What is the value of being undisturbed and peaceful in a world where “Everything moves in oneness” and “Nothing in the world is separate, unworthy, or lost,” and “The stone and the jewel are honored as equals”?

22)     Respond to your circumstances by doing what is called for “in the situation as it arises”!

23)     What do we want? What is it that we cannot get enough of? What is the need that goes unmet and sends us forever crashing into the limits of our lives? What are we after?

24)     Trying to have more than we can have, or have any business having, ravages countrysides.

25)     When do we have what we need? When can we be content, be satisfied, rest easily, not worry, trust ourselves to our lives, assured that we will always have what we need?

26)     The way is not the way to what we want.

27)     To have all that we want is to have more than we have.

28)     Harmony Is not the highest good. Sometimes yes, sometimes no. We live in the service of what needs to happen without preconceived notions of what that might be. It is ad lib all the way, and we are surprised to find ourselves doing what we do, having done what we have done.

29)     The sage doesn’t have to have things be different than they are, but has the eye to see what is possible, and assists in the movement-to-the-good that is a potential in every moment. We live toward the good “in the situation as it arises.”

30)     Some futures are better than others. Some things are to be preferred over others. All things are not equal. It matters how we live.

31)     Those who are alive are alive to the time and place of their living. They see what is possible and do what needs to be done in the service of a good that is greater than their own good. They do what is theirs to do without thinking about what they stand to gain or lose, or who is watching, or who is keeping score. Whose advantage is served in doing what is right, now?

32)     Some things have no business being. The child molester cannot be himself. The alcoholic, the psychopath, cannot be allowed to be “who they are.” Control and interference have their place, else why try to control the controlling power of those in control, or interfere with the interference of those who interfere?